Research could accelerate computing to speed of light

Researchers at the University of Toronto have discovered a new technique to form tiny perfect crystals that have high optical quality, a finding that could usher in a new era of ultra-fast computing and communication using photons instead of electrons.

These crystals, called photonic crystals, could greatly improve both speed and bandwidth in communications systems, says University Professor Geoffrey Ozin of the Department of Chemistry.

“All of the promises of what photonic crystals can do, in terms of guiding light and bending light in incredibly small spaces, may be achieved by the assembly of patterns of micrometer-size photonic crystals all in a plane,” he says. “The breakthrough possibly represents a step towards the development of miniaturized optical components earmarked for the next generation of all-optical computers and telecommunication systems.”

The technique, described in the June issue of Advanced Functional Materials, carves geometrically and spatially well-defined microscopic patterns into the surface of a material. The surface relief patterns are then exposed to an alcohol-based solution of synthetic microspheres. These microspheres exclusively enter the surface relief patterns and self-assemble into perfectly arranged microstructures called photonic crystals. The crystals have the property of being able to act as tiny optical components for managing photons in circuits of light similar to how semi-conductor transistors control electrons in circuits of electricity.

Ozin, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Materials Chemistry, says the findings represent a step towards significantly reducing the size of optical components, devices and circuits.

CONTACT: Professor Geoffrey Ozin, Department of Chemistry, 416-978-2082, gozin@chem.utoronto.ca or Nicolle Wahl, U of T public affairs, 416-978-6974, nicolle.wahl@utoronto.ca

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